Natural Buildings – Part 1: Arches

Workshop theme: Sustainable Architecture
No of participants: 14
Age Group: 25-50
Duration: 3 days 
Period: June/July 2023

For the last few decades Auroville has led the way in creating some remarkable architecture that boasts of nature’s role in creating buildings. Experiments have brought about a change in consciousness to think in terms of sustainability. This has created designs and buildings that are created from natural materials sourced locally and leave hardly any traces of waste behind. Even when demolished they will go back to earth without harming the environment.

A red brick walled building with trees in the background.
Auroville Visitors Centre, constructed in 1991. Image: Google

This Natural Building Basics workshop takes you on a journey into sustainable architecture. You will see how buildings can be livable and at the same time be non polluting. The materials do not leave carbon footprints and are as strong as any conventional materials. 

The sessions conducted by Sacred Groves gave participants a fine understanding of natural buildings. They got an opportunity to build mini arches, understand the properties and uses of lime and make bricks from a mix  of earth, sand, hay and water. Here’s a glance into their work on Arches. 

Participants with their design!

Arches in Construction:

Arches in construction are an ancient and versatile architectural element that has been used for centuries in various cultures around the world. One of the earliest known architectural innovations, arches have stood the test of time and continue to be employed in modern construction for both their structural and aesthetic merits. In certain regions, arch construction has been particularly associated with the use of mud bricks, commonly referred to as adobe. This traditional technique has been passed down through generations and is still practiced in some parts of the world today..

Roman Bridge. Image: Google

Arch construction withs adobe, is still practiced in some parts of the world. Adobe arches can be found in various architectural styles, including traditional and vernacular designs.  Arches are used in construction to provide structural support by distributing weight and forces evenly. They can span openings like doorways and windows, allowing for larger openings without compromising the stability of the building. By transferring the load outward and downward, arches can effectively bear the weight of the structure they are a part of. Without arches, the weight above an opening would put immense pressure on the sides, leading to instability or the need for additional support.

Forces acting on the structure

Miniature arches

Arches’ weight bearing properties and visually appealing form has allowed for the creation of magnificent architectural feats such as grand entrance ways, vaulted ceilings, and expansive windows that flood interiors with natural light.  This aesthetic allure has made arches a popular choice in various architectural styles, including Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque, Islamic, and many others. Their graceful curves and elegant lines add beauty and architectural interest to a building. Whether they are simple and unadorned or intricately embellished, arches can dramatically enhance the visual appeal of a structure.

Gateway of India. Image: Google

It’s worth noting that while adobe arches have been used historically and are still used in some regions, modern construction practices often employ alternative materials such as concrete or steel for arch construction due to their higher strength, versatility, easy sourcing of material, and reduced time for construction.

In conclusion, arch construction, particularly using mud bricks or adobe, has a rich historical heritage and is still employed in some parts of the world. Arches play a critical structural role by providing support and distributing weight, allowing for larger openings while maintaining the stability of buildings. Moreover, their aesthetic charm adds beauty and character to architectural designs, making arches a timeless and enduring element in construction.

A group of people standing with trees in the background.
Participants after a fruitful workshop

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